Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Memphis Seeks To Turn The Dial While Turning Up Heat

Memphis Seeks To Turn The Dial While Turning Up Heat

A couple theatrical seasons ago, I decried the color-blind revival of Come Back, Little Sheba for missing an opportunity to highlight the immense struggles mixed race couples had for their very existence back in the 1950s.

Now, with the dawn of the 50s-themed Memphis musical that begins previews tonight at Broadway's Shubert Theatre, perhaps audiences will now have a chance to grasp just how truly difficult it had to have been. With book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by David Bryan, Memphis appears poised to do some of the heavy lifting that all too many well-intentioned, color-blind period revivals choose to ignore or sweep under the rug. In this new tuner, a steamy romance develops between African American singer Felicia Farrell (Montego Glover) and white DJ Huey Calhoun (Chad Kimball) against the unmistakable backdrop of segregation.

Directed by Christopher Ashley and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, Memphis comes to Broadway by way of both San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse (last year) and Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre (earlier this year). The cast also includes Derrick Baskin, J. Bernard Calloway, James Monroe Inglehart, Michael McGrath and Cass Morgan.

Memphis is officially described as follows:
Turn up that dial!

From the underground dance clubs of 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, by way of hit runs at the La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, comes a hot new Broadway musical - inspired by actual events -- with heart, soul and energy to burn.

He's a young, white radio DJ named Huey Calhoun, whose love of music transcends race lines and airwaves. She's a black singer named Felicia Farrell, whose career is on the rise, but who can't break out of segregated clubs. When the two collaborate, her soulful music reaches radio audiences everywhere, and the Golden Era of early rock 'n' roll takes flight. But as things start to heat up, whether the world is really ready for their music -- or their love -- is put to the test.

A thrilling theatrical event that combines Broadway splendor with the roots of rock, Memphis features an original story by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) and a brand-new score with music by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan. Directing is Tony nominee Christopher Ashley (Xanadu) and choreography is by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys).

Get ready to experience all the exuberance and the emotion...the beauty and the controversy...of a wondrous, defining time in our history.

You're tuning in to Memphis.

While I have never before seen Glover perform, I have seen Kimball ... sort of. Last time I saw him on a Broadway stage was in his debut as Milky White, the cow in the 2002 revival of Into the Woods. Can Glover and Kimball anchor a Broadway show together? Well, count me among those positively intrigued.

Memphis is slated to open at October 19. I've booked my trip to Memphis less than a week later.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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